In collaboration with the city of Copenhagen, American and Danish students and practitioners will partner to test social, ethnographical, temporal and virtual research methodologies on the neighborhood of northern Østerbro this summer. Our explorations and experiments will launch an urban laboratory with the city of Copenhagen. Spanning five years, we will investigate the means of giving this area a social and cultural lift in action with residents and stakeholders. This image, a first glimpse into the center of this project, a roundabout, quite directly frames an underlying discontent in this area. We consider this the first public art work of the project, created by an anonymous artist.
In the summer of 2011, based on two previous years of work, we were invited in to collaborate with the city of Copenhagen in a five-year urban renewal project in a neighborhood northwest of the city center (Sankt Kjelds Kvarter). As outsiders, the very first phase in this international collaboration necessitated treading lightly and understanding first, how we could be of benefit to the community. Second was to develop a means to observe and engage in questions about social connections and their spatial manifestations specifically rooted in the context we were working in. Setting ourselves up as a parallel operation to the city initiative in Sankt Kjelds Kvarter, we formed partnerships with Copenhagen-based art and design practices and institutes, community members, Danish students and city officials, with the intention to discover a means of working together for the next several years.
Projects included a hospitality-launching initiative with Wooloo, a public space furniture design prototype with Onesto Mong, myth building with CIID and courtyard inversion installations with Hausenberg.
Our contemporary cities are messy collections of people, moments and spaces. In order to navigate our increasingly complex urban environments, we require the means to operate effectively: to encode and decode, to challenge and to comply, to appropriate and negotiate, to remember and forget. Image plays a large role in how we both perceive and act in/upon cities. Everything from city branding to tourism to organizational strategies which exercise the will of those in power relies on the creation and appropriation of certain types of visual representation, from post cards to zoning maps. But there is another image of the city much harder to define or describe. It is the imaginable space of our everyday lives, constructed of not just visual information but acoustic, tactile, social and temporal information as well. James Corner points out that the eidetic image is an image that "contain[s] a broad range of ideas that lie at the core of human creativity. Consequently, how one ‘images' the world literally conditions how reality is both conceptualized and shaped." This project, an extension of the year before, allowed us to operate within the plaza space of Ørestad in Copenhagen to activate a transitional and dormant site.
The canal system in Ørestad is part of a large-scale process of water reclamation that results in nearly drinkable (only needs to be boiled) ‘waste water'. Building and street run-off are filtered through subterranean mats in a multi-stage process unique to the development in Ørestad. The classification as waste water imposes a strict set of rules for its use (i.e. no swimming or recreation) despite being cleaner than the harbor where swimmig and recreation are sanctioned and extremely popular activities. This is a shame, since the canal infrastructure connects the entire development in Ørestad and so could potentially provide a superb public amenity at our site and beyond.
Our project started with an investigation of the economic forces at work at our site. Kay Fiskers Plads is adjacent to the largest shopping mall in Scandinavia. It takes advantage of the new bridge connecting Copenhagen to Malmö, Sweden, which blurs the political borders of Copenhagen into a region better described by economic flows. Interstate commerce must always be aware of the comparative values of currency in order to operate effectively. We wanted to unpin value from currency in our plaza, the heart of this new economic territory. A trading post, where value is unfixed, subjective and ephemeral, challenges the model which produced the plaza in the first place, and tries to use its connection to a system of personal valuation to subvert the organizing principles of public space in Ørestad.
Instant Birthday Party began as a way for us to bring a human connection into the vacant plaza. Not knowing exactly what questions we were asking, we wanted a project that, instead of being a test of a hypothesis, was in itself a step towards developing a hypothesis about our site, an uncovering of something hidden that we couldn't speculate about in the beginning.
The result was compelling and productive. Operating in a commuter-zone of A to B habits, a consistent response to our desire to throw someone a party was to check their watch, grimmace painfully, and ask, "how long will it take?" At our assurance that it would only last a minute, people were willing to see what it was all about. For us that uncovered an idea of different kind of public times. As we inhabit public spaces, we operate on various kinds of time: errand time, commuting time, leisure time, etc.; each with its own set of habits, rituals, rules and goals. The next step for us, after the Birthday Party, would be to then analyze our site through this lens of public times.
After everything, we produced memories of a birthday party in an otherwise voided plaza. We produced stories to be told and retold to friends and families. We connected people meaningfully with a space, whether they knew it or not. We made them smile.
Pop Quiz was a temporary seating and survey installation, an experiment to see if a basic infrastructure of stacked pallets could significantly change use patterns in the circulation path between the metro and Field's mall. Not simply providing a place to sit, the ‘benches' began to operate in relation to the on-site vending kiosk, creating an impromptu seating area for people enjoying their coffee, sandwich or ice cream, as well as bus-stop seating, rest for elderly shoppers, smokers taking a break from mall shopping.
The city of Copenhagen does not permit the kiosk vendor, located along the busy walking route between metro and mall, to provide any kind of seating for his patrons. Our site permit, under the auspices of temporariness, allowed us to produce a kind of leisure congestion around his kiosk by providing seating. He was so excited by this he made us all free coffee.
It takes 45 seconds to walk from the metro station to the mall. Where we were able to alter that, where we were able to produce lingering, leisure and loitering, we took advantage by offering a ‘pop quiz', a questionnaire aimed at relating our site at Kay Fiskers Plads to people's convivial and social expectations of space. Simply asking the question "Would you dance here?" begins a process of visualization of dancing in the windswept plaza. The results of the survey, collected and published online, are actually less important than the act of asking the question.
Perhaps more so than in any other region, the practice of design in Scandinavia is deeply embedded in the cultural identity of the place. Rather than being limited to certain commodified roles of an image economy, innovative design in Scandinavia is a highly valued part of daily life, persisting ingeniously in even the most banal of conditions. It is apparent in every facet of their culture—from print media to city planning. Our current digital era has propelled Scandinavian design into the homogeneous stream of the global image—yet it remains a model to emulate. This project was divided into two separate parts—an intensive investigation of two different Scandinavian cities (Copenhagen and Bergen) to understand the complexity and uniqueness of cultural identity culminating in a data-drive exhibition in our 2009 home base city of Denver.